Friday, 30 November 2012

Rome vs The Barbarians

I missed last week's Black Powder game at the Gong Garage Gamers, but this week we were promised the related Hail Caesar, the basic mechanics of which, I am assured, are much the same. So I was looking forward to this as a useful training exercise; Ancients isn't a great favourite of mine, but Black Powder looks to be worth the effort of learning to play (if only so I have a stab at taking part in a big Gettysburg game being organised locally next July).

Some email discussion showed that, by pooling of resources, we could throw together some suitable armies. Ralph, who would be running the game, isn't really up on Ancients either, so wanted to do a simple Roman/Barbarian fight. various people brought figures from their collections, which were thrown together into units which, whilst not resembling anything historical, looked like masses of men.

Peter was bringing most of the figures, but tends to turn up later in the evening, so we improvised a quick intro game; three units of Men With Spears were classed as Roman auxiliary infantry, and a force of four Barbarian warbands were pitted against them.

Being bearded, I took the Barbarians. Initially they seemed to be commanded by an all-girl morris-dancing group:.

However we swapped that for a more conventional chariot.

Caesar commanded the Roman invaders. Obviously.

Barbarian tactics are not subtle - I charged. Or I charged one mass anyway; not knowing how combat worked I didn't want to commit the whole army until I'd seen how things might pan out:

Things didn't go too well. The Barbarians made a tactical withdrawal:

With nothing left to lose I just chucked everything in, and achieved a push-back on the other flank:

There was some hard fighting in the centre as well:

But on the whole the Barbarians failed to break the Roman line. However since one of their units was now behind its starting position, and the others hadn't advanced, I claimed victory on the grounds that the Romans controlled less of Germany than when they had started ...

This week's Guest Star is the pterosaur the role-players had drawn on the white-board in their room:

Meanwhile Peter had arrived and sorted out two armies from his collection of figures. On one side we had some Romans who mostly looked like Romans - legionaries, some auxiliaries, a few archers, cataphract cavalry and a couple of units of artillery. On the other side were barbarians, made up of whatever figures we had left. Some of them were quite colourful, suggesting that the land being fought over would become, 1700 years later, Riskovia. Caesar and I took the Barbarians (which gave me an excuse if we lost if nothing else) whilst Peter and John handled the Romans. Ralph adjudicated and looked startled as we asked him complex questions:

The Barbarians had cavalry. I commanded it. Any Staines Wargamers reading this will know that this cannot end well ...

A good start. As my cavalry plodded slowly forward (I said 'Charge', but they obviously misheard me), one unit took a single hit from some long-range artillery fire. And routed.

The Roman firing-line: artillery and archers. This is what my troops were advancing towards.

My surviving cavalry failed to charge again:

Indeed the Romans got so bored waiting for us to attack that they came to me instead. We discovered that, whilst on paper the difference between their cataphracts and the barbarian cavalry isn't that great, in reality those lances and that extra point on the save gives them quite an edge:

Whilst Caesar thought about tactics with his infantry I just did what Barbarians do best with mine - I got stuck in:

Here's my wing of the Barbarian army falling back, or being pushed back. Getting stuck in is a high-risk strategy:

On the other flank John moved his artillery into an enfilade position. The Roman artillery really gave us a taste of what ACW Black Powder might be like; they caused us no end of trouble:

Caesar decides to fight. And actually does OK:

However the Roman cavalry, having polished off their Barbarian counterparts, now smacked into the back of my warbands. Not good.

At this point we called time. This was our dead-pile:

And this was the Roman's dead-pile - I did for the artillery unit, whilst Caesar managed to break some legionaries:

No amount of clever writing can claim a Barbarian victory. we lost. Big time.

I think we all enjoyed the game, with its sweeping, and non-fiddly, moves. The big handfuls of dice can make combat very random sometimes, and the Roman artillery was stupidly lucky in rolling sixes (which force a morale test) so seemed to do damage far in excess of their numbers. I'm looking forward to trying the system  in a period with guns, now.

Thanks to John, Caesar and Peter for providing figures, and to Ralph for organising the game. I just brought my dice, tape-measure and a camera.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Battles And Leaders

A couple of things I have been considering for my ACW Portable Wargame variant (because it's starting to diverge from the original a bit now) are commander quality and what I shall call, for want of a better word, Elan.

Commanders can, to some extent, represent individual officers, but with the rather abstract nature of the Portable Wargame, they could represent an overall quality of command of the force as a whole. The fact that their only effect is to give bonuses to units they are with or adjacent to creates a kind of focus - the point on the battlefield where the commander is present is, to some extent, the point at which that army is making its main effort. This is very much the principle of behind how officers work in Maurice, for example.

This offers some possibilities for reflecting commander quality. The obvious one is to increase the bonus they give, but given the D6 nature of the Portable Wargame this is probably a bit extreme. There's no real way of reducing the bonus of a poor commander (make it zero and the commander has no purpose) and a +2 on firing, close combat and rallying is rather excessive. Another possibility is to vary the command radius, but increasing it for good commanders means that they are less likely to put themselves in danger - one of the side effects of the commanders 'adjacent' effect on a square grid is that they are best deployed in the front line so they can influence the unit they are with and those to both sides, but at the risk of being shot.

However if we consider that the commander is a point of focus of the army's activities, then it's easy to see one way of reflecting superior and inferior commanders - the ability to rapidly shift that focus and wrong-foot their opponent. This could be done by varying how far a commander can move - an average commander moves 2 squares, but a poor commander could be given only a 1 square move, whilst a good one gets a 3 square move. In that way a good commander can suddenly shift his influence from one side of the field to the other, whilst a poor commander will tend to be stuck with whatever plan they started with.

Another possibility is, of course, the initiative roll, which determines who acts first after the common artillery fire phase. There's a slight advantage to going first (you get to recover from, or exploit, the effects of the artillery fire before your opponent), so a simple reflection of commander quality would be to give a force with a good commander a +1 and a force with a poor one a -1.

I have also been considering how to reflect some of the desperate, and sometimes successful, charges of the Civil War. To this end I have considered the possibility of giving both sides a number of points of Elan - maybe one for each unit the force starts the battle with, maybe less. Whatever, it should be a finite resource. When a unit initiates a close combat it may spend a point of Elan to add one to the die roll (although do this before the defender rolls to add an element of risk, of course). In addition a defending unit may opt to spend two points of Elan to add one to their roll, simulating a desperate defence. The relative costs should slightly favour, and encourage, the kind of aggressive attacks the war seemed to produce.

This game is starting to acquire a life of its own, and I feel I really need to write it up properly and give it a name. Unfortunately all the best names for American Civil War rules have been gobbled up. I shall have to give it some thought ...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

I'm A Liebster Blog

I am, it appears, now a Liebster Blog. From what I can understand this is an award that one blogger gives to other favourite blogs with the proviso that the blogs so honoured have less than 200